Want To Save Money? Set Your Standards Too High!

By , October 27, 2009

Quite unwittingly, I’ve stumbled upon an excellent frugality measure: idealism.

I love stuff. This doesn’t mean that I have a lot of possessions—at least not by today’s standards—but I really like the things I own. Each item represents a successful search for the right object, whether an essential tool or knick-knack. Each one has been weighed against others of its kind, and judged superior. I rarely buy anything without considering quality and cost.

This isn’t because I’m extremely frugal, it’s because I’m an idealist! Quite often when I want or need something, I’ll create an image in my mind that represents everything I want that object to be, then I’ll search for it, stubbornly accepting less.

The likelihood that my ideal image may not exist at all is key to the frugality. If there’s no such product, I can’t buy it!

I love snow globes, but I don’t own a single one. Years ago I developed an image of what I’d like my snow globe to be: the shape and size of the globe, the scene depicted in it, the particulars of the base, and most importantly, no bubble in the top of the globe! With this ideal firmly in mind, I shopped for years without success. I got a lot of pleasure from the search, and enjoyed many beautiful snow globes in the process.

About ten years later, I found a globe that met all my qualifications. It was beautiful, as perfect as my vision, and it was extremely affordable. Oddly, though, by that time, it just didn’t seem like something I needed to own right then. I turned away from the opportunity. Six years later, I still have no regrets! I guess the long search cooled my ardor for the object.

Seven years ago I found a mug in a gift shop. It had a beautiful design sand blasted through the glaze, but I especially liked its granite-ware finish and wonderfully heavy construction. I admired its size and the way it fit my hand. It cost $30! I began searching for a better price. Four years later, I found one selling for $8. For the next three years, I decided to buy the mug each time we returned to that town; every time, I decided against it at the last minute. Last summer, I found a mug of the same design, without artwork but in a far more pleasing color. It was in a thrift store. I paid $1. It is now my primary coffee mug.

I have a mental list of objects I want or need but don’t own, because I’ve yet to find my personal paragon. Each one represents savings, as I’ve never spent the money for it. These ideals have given me almost as much pleasure from the search as I’d derive from ownership.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

Also, for a collection of our frugal thoughts and practices, check out More Calories Than Cash: Frugality the Zeiger Family Homestead Way, our new eBook—exclusively (and inexpensively priced!) from our website!

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